NYS Exposed: Lawmakers could still get pay raise

November 28, 2016 11:26 PM

We've been tracking a possible pay raise for state lawmakers for month.

In April, we went to Albany to ask direct questions to the commission charged with coming up with a pay raise. In August, we laid out the total compensation of our state lawmakers and most take home six figures.

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In September, we created a petition that more than 1,500 of you signed and it told the commission: You want no pay raise at all.

The salary of our state lawmakers is $79,000. The majority of you told us they should not get a pay raise and that's what happened.

This month, the state Pay Raise Commission ended its term with no pay raise recommendation, but careful listening to the governor and some of the commissioners may mean that the door is still open for some kind of pay raise to happen.

Sheila Birnbaum, Chair of Pay Raise Commission: "The commission's work is done."

Those words came after 12 months of work without a pay raise commendation. But a talk with Governor Andrew Cuomo may have indicated there is a pulse, even though he understands most New Yorkers likely don't want state lawmakers to get raise.

But the governor and his appointees to the commission are trying to put it on life support. The governor told us: Give state lawmakers a pay raise if state lawmakers give up their outside income.

"So if they went to a full-time job and gave up their outside income, then you can argue they deserve a higher increase because they gave up their outside income," said Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Commissioner Fran Reiter said if the state Assembly and Senate passed ethics reforms and banned or capped outside income before Christmas: "We are prepared to recommend and approve at a reconvened meeting of this commission a salary substantially higher than any discussed so far by this commission," said Reiter.

The highest pay raise discussed so far is $116,000 -- that's a 47 percent increase. Now, getting rid of outside income will have no impact on the majority of state lawmakers or their constituents. But it would have an impact on us.

According to Common Cause, a government watchdog group in New York, 60 percent of state lawmakers have no outside income. But three of the top five outside income earners are from our area.

In 2014, Assemblyman Steve Hawley of Batavia -- who owns an insurance agency -- reported an outside income of more than $512,000. Senator Mike Nozzolio of Seneca Falls and Senator Michael Ranzenhofer, whose district includes Churchville, Chili and the west side of Rochester, both work as lawyers and both reported making at least $200,000.

Earlier this year, Assemblyman Hawley told Brett Davidsen he would leave government if outside income was banned.

Brett Davidsen: "Would you be able to continue in your capacity in the Assembly do you think?"

Assemblyman Hawley: "If they ban outside income, I think you would lose an awful lot of very good people serving their communities. I would be one of them."

Senator Nozzolio is retiring at the end of the year, but all this talk might be a formality. The law that created the Pay Raise Commission says its work ended November 15.

"This commission will have no authority beyond today," said Barry Crozier, commissioner.

Even if another meeting were called before New Year's, some commissioners said they wouldn't show up including the chair Shelia Birnbaum.

So it feels like a dead end, but there is one more option for state lawmakers. The governor says, if they want a pay raise, do it themselves.

"If they really are confident in their position, the legislature can just vote themselves a raise," said the governor. "Let them stand up and say, 'We deserve a raise and I'm voting for the raise,' if that's what you believe."

The last time they did that was 1999 -- which is also the last time they got a raise. We called the speaker's office and the Senate president. They don't have a special session planned for December.


Berkeley Brean

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